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Mahedy v. Gibson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 21, 2018

BRIAN ALBERT MAHEDY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
AMANDA JEAN GIBSON, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Richard B. Clogg, Judge.

         A father appeals the custody order placing his two children in the physical care of their mother.

          Scott D. Fisher of Fisher Law Firm, P.L.C., Urbandale, for appellant.

          Amanda Jean Gibson, Newton, self-represented appellee.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Brian Mahedy and Amanda Gibson are the parents of N.G., now eleven years old, and R.G., now three years old. After Brian brought an action to establish custody under Iowa Code chapter 600B (2015), the district court granted joint legal custody and placed physical care with Amanda. On appeal, Brian asks this court to assign physical care of the children to him.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Brian and Amanda engaged in an on-again-off-again relationship for several years. N.G. was born in 2006. Although no formal custodial agreement existed, Brian often exercised informal visitation with N.G. on the weekends. Amanda had two children from other relationships. Brian and Amanda reunited in 2013 and R.G. was born in 2014. When their relationship ended, the children remained in Amanda's care.

         Brian sought a formal custodial agreement and filed a petition to establish custody in August 2015.[1] Brian and Amanda completed mediation and agreed on a temporary custodial arrangement giving Amanda physical care of the children and granting Brian visitation every other weekend. Initially Brian exercised his visitation without controversy, but the situation changed when Amanda and the children moved to Michigan. On March 25, 2016, Amanda requested visitation stop because of concerning statements made by N.G. about Brian's treatment of her and her brother. In April, the district court denied the motion to suspend visitation. But visitation did not resume, and Brian brought a contempt action against Amanda.

         After a series of delays, Brian's custody petition came to trial in October 2016. In addition to Brian, Brian's mother and sister, and Amanda's ex-husband testified in favor of Brian's petition. Amanda, who did not have an attorney, testified on her own behalf. The district court issued a written decree granting Amanda physical care. The court reasoned it was in the children's best interests to remain in Amanda's care given her long history as their primary caregiver. Because of the geographical distance between parents, Brian was granted visitation on the second weekend of each month and certain portions of holiday and summer breaks. The court also ruled on Brian's contempt motion, concluding Amanda prohibited visitation on twelve weekends since she moved to Michigan. As a remedy, the court granted Brian an additional consecutive fourteen days of visitation during the upcoming summer break. Dissatisfied with the court's ruling, Brian appeals and seeks physical care of the children. Amanda did not file a timely appellee's brief.

         II. Scope and Standard of Review

         We review custody proceedings de novo. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; Lambert v. Everist, 418 N.W.2d 40, 42 (Iowa 1988) (noting we use same legal analysis in custody as dissolution proceedings). But "we give considerable weight to the sound judgment of the trial court who has had the benefit of hearing and observing the parties firsthand." In re Marriage of Kleist, 538 N.W.2d 273, 278 (Iowa 1995).

         Our primary concern is the best interests of N.G. and R.G. See In re Marriage of Fennelly, 737 N.W.2d 97, 101 (Iowa 2007). When determining physical care, we are guided by the factors established in Iowa Code section 598.41(3) and In re Marriage of Winter, 223 N.W.2d 165, 166-67 (Iowa 1974). McKee v. Dicus, 785 N.W.2d 733, 737 (Iowa Ct. App. 2010). But because each family presents its own strengths and ...


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